I arrived at U.S. Bank Stadium Saturday night, my heart heavy from the news of the weekend.
A white nationalist rally in Virginia had caused the brutal death of a woman not much older than myself. Seeing Coldplay felt like the least radical thing I could do, and I wondered if anybody around me -- mostly white, mostly suburban -- was feeling the same.
I was somewhat encouraged, then, when an excerpt from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator filled the stadium during the overture.
“To those who can hear me, I say -- do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed -- the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish…”
Coldplay has always had a quasi-political bent, albeit in a cuddly, peace-and-love kinda way. Chris Martin will never advocate for punching Nazis (though I would), but the inclusion of a monologue that says in no unclear terms that we must work to squash fascism felt pointed.
Sorry, I know I’m reviewing a concert here.
Coldplay have gone to great lengths to be a band of spectacle. On their Viva La Vida tour, they dropped giant glowing orbs on the crowd. With Mylo Xyloto, it was confetti cannons and LED wristbands, worn by the crowd, that glow and pulse with the music. They brought the wristbands back for this tour. And the confetti cannons. And for good measure, threw in some fireworks, pyrotechnics, and balloons. It's tempting to say it’s overdone – ok, it’s certainly overdone -- but the display is so dazzling and contagious it’s hard not to be beguiled.
The show began with the opening riffs of “A Head Full of Dreams” raising genuine goosebumps as the wristbands cut through the darkness with pulsing red lights. This fast-paced, (almost) funky 2015 song set the pace for a show full of pageantry and exuberance. Next was perennial favorite “Yellow” from their 2000 debut Parachutes. The sound in U.S. Bank (at least where I sat) was crisp and clear, and the band is so finely tuned that each song sounded as sharp and strong as it does on record. Rarely did Chris Martin lose his breath, though he spent much of the show skipping up and down the catwalk towards the center of the arena.
Also early on was “The Scientist,” the sort of uncomplicated piano ballad that, for a time, Coldplay was known for (and, in this reviewer's opinion, their best song), with a few lines of "Raspberry Beret" tacked on as a coda. They followed with more songs from A Rush of Blood to the Head -- “God Put a Smile Upon my Face” and later, fan fave “Clocks.” It’s their gutsiest, most honest album, from before they became more interested in bombast and feel-goodery. (And before they embraced convoluted song titles: “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall,” “Always in My Head,” “A Head Full of Dreams,” “Adventure of a Lifetime,” “A Sky Full of Stars.”)
For their first interlude, the band moved to the center stage to play a spare mini-set from Ghost Stories (a terrific album -- it’s a shame they never toured it). This felt like a move to bring the action to different parts of the crowd, but there was a faux-intimacy to it. Martin also took this opportunity to thank the fans for coming out to a big show which he acknowledges is a “big fucking hassle.” (When Chris Martin swears, I think, “Cool, this guy is all right.”) He also addressed (briefly) the conflicts with North Korea and Venezuela (the nuke threat already felt so far in the past) and asked the crowd to send a little love out to the places in the world that might need it.
The second act closed with a ballsy three-song stretch that started huge and only got huger: the soaring love song “Fix You,” the jubilant “Viva La Vida,” and the groovy dance jam “Adventure of a Lifetime.” These songs are all basically at the same volume, but the band avoided the very real danger of monotony. The pulsing wristbands made the stadium feel like a beating heart. And “Adventure” stuck in my head even after it ended, even as I walked back to my car later.
But an even more rousing moment came, quite unexpectedly, during the first encore -- an acoustic set out again on a tiny stage in the crowd. What seemed awkward and forced before, felt very natural this time. Drummer Will Champion took over vocals for “Don’t Panic” (“We live in a beautiful world, yeah we do, yeah we do”), and this tiny display was endearing. The band of brothers huddled together in close quarters was charming, the most honest moment of the night.
The show concluded with several more upbeat dance jams, most notably “A Sky Full of Stars,” the only confetti-cannon-worthy song from Ghost Stories. It would’ve been a fitting finale, but then Coldplay did always have a hard time reining themselves in. (You guys heard X&Y?)
In this ugly moment, it’s easy to dismiss Coldplay as viewing the world through rose-colored lenses. But I can’t help but admire them for daring to inject some earnestness, color, and warmth into a black and white world. Their message is love, and there are far worse messages being spread these days.
A Head Full of Dreams
Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall
God Put a Smile Upon Your Face
Always In My Head
Hymn for the Weekend
Viva la Vida
Adventure of a Lifetime
In My Place
Us Against the World
Something Just Like This
A Sky Full of Stars
The crowd: I know people who read concert reviews get worked up when we mention how white an audience is, but I’m sorry, this crowd was 99 percent white folk from the suburbs. Interestingly, it was tough to pin down an age demo. There were as many teenage girls as there were dads.
Overheard in the crowd: “It’s extra impressive they got three tiers going” -- a middle aged man in a bright green polo shirt sitting behind me, on the success of a pre-show wave.
Random notebook dump: “Oh, this is that Chainsmokers song. I wish they were still selling alcohol”
Notes on the opener: Izzi Bizu, a young English singer-songwriter who's basically Corinne Bailey Rae 2.0, and AlunaGeorge, an electronic-R&B duo. Mostly forgettable, except for the occasional rah-rah feminist message.
Critic’s bias: I was a super user on a Coldplay message board back in the day. This was also my fourth time seeing them.